Josh McDaniels didn't know what he didn't know.
In 2009, he was the baby-faced 32-year-old prodigy plucked out of Bill Belichick's roost and Tom Brady's shadow to serve as Mike Shanahan's replacement in Denver, holding down two jobs he'd never had: head coach and de facto general manager.
He'd trade away his starting quarterback, draft Tim Tebow and win his first six games, including one against his mentor. But he was fired halfway through his four-year contract, losing 17 of his next 22 games and presiding over his very own videotape scandal.
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The Broncos blamed themselves for giving McDaniels too much power with so little experience. Denver then embarked on a renaissance under general manager John Elway and Peyton Manning.
McDaniels spent a year with the Rams before returning for a highly successful second stint with Brady and Belichick, preparing him for his second NFL head coaching gig with the Indianapolis Colts , which will become official after the Super Bowl.
Now 41, McDaniels still doesn't look his age, but he says he is much wiser than the brash coach who wore the gray hoodie in Denver eight years ago.
McDaniels said he was a much better trainee and tutor in his return to New England, much more appreciative of the breadth of Belichick's artistry and the depth of Brady's genius .
"It's a unique perspective," seeing things a second time after getting a firsthand look behind the coaching curtain, McDaniels said Wednesday, as he helped Brady and Belichick prepare for their eighth Super Bowl.
"Bill does a tremendous job of understanding the pulse of his team. He relates to everyone very well and I've been able to see that and look at that through a different lens. When we need a push, he pushes us. When we need love, he loves us. When we need a pat on the back, he does that. When we need to run hills, we run hills," McDaniels said.
"He just has a tremendous ability to understand when to do what as a head coach. And he serves us in so many ways to make us better coaches, to make the players better players. He's there to help us, he doesn't take it away from us. Believe me, I make tons of mistakes in my role and he's there to help."
McDaniels didn't think it was possible, but he now holds Belichick in even higher regard than he did during his first stint from 2006-08, because he now realizes all the juggling head coaches have to do.
"Before you leave and you do that, it's hard to say that you know what he's going through because you really don't," McDaniels said. "I'm very happy for the experiences that I've gone through. A lot of the failings in my career have been some of the best teachers that I've had. I've really learned a lot from them, I think I'm a better person, a better coach, a better communicator, a lot of things because of the things that I haven't done well."
One thing he's done exceptionally well is working with Brady, who's going for his sixth Super Bowl ring Sunday when the Patriots play the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles .
McDaniels has long held that working with Brady made him a better coach, because he always had to be prepared to answer the quarterback's incessant questions, to justify the smallest of his decisions, to explain what everyone's role was on every single play.
"We haven't treated each other any differently. He treats me with the respect of a coach and I treat him like I need to make him a better player," McDaniels said. "And I think that's the only way to do it. I know his experience and his understanding is above all others as a player. But I don't really focus a whole lot on that. I focus on the next team, the next week, the next practice, our scheme, what we're trying to do and he's very respectful of that. And we listen and learn from each other.
"We have a tremendous relationship and it's been an honor of my lifetime in coaching to have an opportunity to work with a guy like that as long as I have."